There have been a couple of points in the last month where it was easy to say, "If the Pirates don't start playing better, they're going to be in third place soon," but with the Reds just a game behind them, playing great baseball right now and an easy schedule ahead, we're really entering into the Third Place Danger Zone. When the Pirates went out west to play the Padres and Giants a couple of weeks ago, I wrote that I'd been specifically avoiding using the words "must win" up until that point and that the Pirates' poor play leading up to trip had put them awfully close to "must win" territory. The Pirates played much better baseball starting at that point; they went 9-6 over a 15 game stretch, which leaves them still hanging tight with the Cardinals even after the three-game losing streak that's happened since that 15-game stretch ended.
That said, this is a huge game for the Pirates. There are enough games left on the schedule that a 1 1/2 game deficit wouldn't technically be insurmountable, but the circumstances make this one particularly big. This is the Pirates' last game against the Cardinals, while the Reds face Clayton Kershaw this afternoon. That means that a Pirate win could have them back in first place and rebuild their two-game cushion against the Reds. That's big because the Pirates are going to Texas next, while the Reds play the Cubs and the Cardinals play the Brewers. Put simply, a Pirate win would be big today, because it's possible that the next four days could break poorly for them before they come home to face the Cubs next weekend.
Charlie Morton goes for the Pirates. He's been the Pirates' most consistent starter of late; his last really bad start came against the Cardinals on the first of August. Michael Wacha will pitch for the Cardinals today. He was plucked off of the "Guys That Throw 95+ Tree" that grows outside of Busch Stadium earlier this year after just 17 minor league starts (he was the 19th pick in the 2012 draft) and has pitched quite well in five starts and six relief appearances for the Cardinals this year. He makes me nervous, but maybe that's because everything makes me nervous at this time of year.
The first pitch today is at 2:15.